How to Cope During COVID-19
I don’t have anything to say about coping during this unprecedented global crisis that hasn’t been said elsewhere, but this stuff is important enough that it bears repeating. Even though many of us are surviving this, none of us are unaffected psychologically by it. Period. I talk to dozens of online therapy clients every week, and everyone is impacted. To some degree we are all experiencing anxiety, grief, depression, loneliness, boredom, and fear. There simply is no getting around this.
Here’s the stuff I’ve found most helpful during COVID-19, though these are not necessarily in order of importance. Some of this is also based on what my online therapy clients tell me.
This is something my online therapy clients in recovery are already good at practicing, but right now it’s especially important for all of us. When our lives have been so disrupted and our futures are so uncertain, it is easy to lose track of how relatively fortunate most of us are Lately I’ve been reminding myself to be grateful for a lot of things: that I’m not self-quarantined in a tiny apartment, that I have a backyard I can spend time in, that so far I’m not sick and neither are my loved ones, that I’m still able to work and can work from home. With so many suffering around the world and so many much less fortunate than we are, practicing gratitude is important.
Try to Be Productive
The yards in my neighborhood have never looked so good. And I think this is happening all over the country. It helps me to have productive projects to engage in. One of my online therapy clients this week talked about how he now has time to finally get to his “honey do” list. Working on your home, practicing an instrument, taking the time to study that thing you never had time for, etc. It feels good in the moment and will feel good when this is all over.
Practice Self Care
I fully realize that this is easier said than done, but taking care of ourselves during this is crucial. Trying to eat well, hydrate, and exercise are very important in reducing stress, anxiety and depression. This is a great time to realize the benefits of some sort of meditation. Many of my online therapy clients are using apps like Headspace to help them relax or to help them sleep. And though it’s normal and understandable during this unprecedented crisis to self-medicate with food, alcohol, drugs, or other potentially habit-forming behaviors, it’s important to try to keep this in check. The more we self-medicate, the more likely we are to develop a bad habit or addiction and the less able we are over time to simply tolerate how uncomfortable the new normal is. And this is going to last for a while.
Connect with Others
Connecting with other people is essential for mental health and is especially important during this time of isolation and loneliness. I’m finding that I really appreciate the brief interactions I get with neighbors – usually when we’re all working on our yards. Phone and video calls are not the same as in-person connections, but they are the best we can do for now. We had our first family Zoom call last week, and it really lifted my spirits. I’m now trying to schedule more of these with friends and family. Along with the connection they provide, it’s also really nice to have something to look forward to.
Limit your Intake of News
This one is very important. Many of my online therapy clients are finding that the more news they consume, the worse they feel. It makes complete sense. What’s going on in the world now is hard. It’s epic and scary. And we’d be fools to not stay informed. But it realistically only requires about 5 minutes per day of TV news to get the information we really need. If you get your news via reading, maybe it takes more time. But we all need to limit this and pay attention to how the amount of news we consume makes us feel. What I’ve been doing is checking the headlines on my phone once in the morning and once in the afternoon. I haven't missed anything important.
Maybe this one is obvious. But we feel better when we help others, when we are of service to others. In the current environment of social distancing, this can be hard to do. But we can all look for ways to help others. It may be as simple as reaching out to someone in your life who is isolated or who is struggling. Of course, you can’t fix their situation, but just reaching out and listening can be incredibly helpful. I was blowing the leaves off my driveway and sidewalk this week and got inspired to blow the leaves of my neighbors on either side. Not something I’d usually do, but it felt really good.
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